Sydney-based choir Bel a Cappella brings their third concert of 2018 to North Sydney’s Independent Theatre in a celebration of night and all the art inspired by it. Known for their eclectic mix of genres and time periods, the concert line-up brought a collection of contemporary Australian works in contact with more classical pieces.
After a bit of a rocky start with a piece by Gyorgy Ligeti, the choir got into the flow of their performance with two pieces from American composers about the mysterious imagery of nighttime. Tarik O’Regan’s composition titled Threshold of Night, from which the concert gets its name, is about the possibility of night when you can step into or out of obscurity. The lyrics, from poems by Kathleen Raine, represent the conflict of the threshold and what it means to step into the light and into full understanding, in this case, of sorrow and pain.
The crowd favourite piece from the first half was a composition by Eriks Esenvalds with lyrics by Sara Teasdale. Katrina Jenns sung a piercing solo of the longing that dreams bring about for the return of beloved memories, particularly childhood. When sleeping and dreaming, one can shed the years and play again like a child within beloved times and places. It was a satisfying closing to the first half.
Following the interval, conductor and musical director Anthony Pasquill announced their dedication of the performance of Ola Gjeilo’s Dark Night of Soul to the memory of Richard Gill, a much beloved Australian conductor and music educator who passed away in October. This performance saw the choir accompanied by Julia Russoniello and Stella Talati on violins, Ella Brinch on viola, William Tu on cello and Allan on piano. The addition of the instruments to the choirs voices was powerful in a resounding celebration of Gill’s influence on Australian musicians of many generations. The repetition and layering of the line “Ah, the sheer grace” was lively and left one audience member awe-struck as demonstrated in his loud exhalation at the end! This kind of gathering for the celebration of music can be very moving.
Bel a Cappella is a community choir of 25-30 singers that prides itself on its difficult selection of choral pieces and the ease with which they mix international and local and contemporary and classical pieces together in a single concert. Their Threshold of Night concert was a lovely demonstration of their repertoire and a reminder of the impact individuals can have in communities that share their passion and love of music.
Bel a Cappella’s commitment to choral music and performance is palpable in their beautiful soloists and strong harmonising throughout difficult and sometimes unusual pieces. With their impressive enthusiasm and considered taste, this is a choir worth spending your afternoon with.
EDIT: An earlier edition of this review mentioned piano accompaniment to the Eriks Esenvalds’s piece when, in fact, that was a different piece.